Ruben’s Got Soul
Ruben Studdard may be full of soul, but soul don’t mean a thing in pop. Listening to the American Idol winner’s album, Soulful, it’s pretty apparent why the album hasn’t gotten glowing reviews. It’s not pop. It’s soul, R&B, and a little hip-hop. It’s not for 14-year-old mallrats with Gap sweaters, it’s made for 20-somethings to blast from their cars while they cruise slowly through the city on a Saturday night.Studdard, a.k.a. the “Velvet Teddy Bear,” lays his smooth Gospel-trained voice over tracks that have been produced by the likes of R. Kelly, Warryn Campbell, and Ron Lawrence (whose credits include Aaliyah, Luther Vandross and Aretha Franklin, respectively). He also covers the Carpenters’ “Superstar” (also covered by Luther Vandross), and a perfect rendition of Al Green’s version of the Bee Gees’ “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart.”
Studdard’s talent can’t be denied, even though it sounds as if he sometimes pulls himself back from the latent power his voice holds. One can’t help but feel there’s more intensity there, waiting to surface. But in the end, Soulful is not spectacular. It’s slightly predictable, rehashing time-tested beats and harmony arrangements, especially in the vein of R&B. It’s not the kind of album to focus on, taking in every note with respect and awe, which is what America may expect from their so-called “Idol.” But as background music it is ideal on a chill night, or just when you’re feeling soulful.